Hilary Mantel became the first British writer to win the £50,000 Man Booker Prize since Alan Hollinghurst won the award for The Line of Beauty five years ago, in 2004.
Mantel’s historical epic, Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII, had been the popular favourite to win the award despite competition from strong contenders like the 2003 Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee, who had won the Booker twice, for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999, and AS Byatt, the 1990 Booker winner for Possession.
The Indian Aravind Adiga won the prize last year for The White Tiger, the Irish Anne Enright won for The Gathering in 2007, the Indian Kiran Desai won in 2006 for The Inheritance Of Loss, and the Irish John Banville for The Sea in 2005.
Mantel is only the third British Booker winner in 12 years following on the success of Alan Hollinghurst in 2004 and Ian McEwan, who won the prize in 1998 for Amsterdam.
Here is an excerpt from Wolf Hall published in the New York Review of Books.
The Times reports:
“The hottest favourite in the 41-year history of the Man Booker Prize edged home last night when Wolf Hall was named the winner in a secret ballot by three votes to two.
“The judges described Hilary Mantel’s 650-page doorstopper about political manoeuvring at the court of Henry VIII as an “extraordinary piece of storytelling . . . a modern novel that happens to be set in the 16th century”.
“It is the first favourite to triumph in Britain’s leading literary competition since Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in 2002. Booksellers predicted that Wolf Hall would go on to outsell all previous Booker winners.”
Mantel, 57, is now writing a sequel to Wolf Hall, called The Mirror And The Light, which will take the story up to Thomas Cromwell’s execution in 1540, says Bloomberg.
“I am happily flying through the air,” she said after winning the award. But she added on a more serious note: “‘It’s earnings. That may seem a very cold way of looking at a major award, but cost out what an author earns per hour and it’s far, far less than the minimum wage. The return is not great. The money from prizes, welcome though it is, must be used to pay the mortgage,” says the Telegraph.
The Guardian recalls:
“In an interview earlier this year, Mantel said she felt Wolf Hall was going to be her breakout novel…
“Her genius is to have turned the story we all know through 180 degrees, viewing it through the eyes of one of history’s arch-villains, Thomas Cromwell, in the brief, frantic period that formed a new state church out of a king’s determination to divorce. Her Cromwell is a Tudor superhero who rises from battered blacksmith’s boy to become the most powerful man in the land beside Henry VIII.
“Detractors have complained that Wolf Hall is not an easy read. Mantel doesn’t court empathy, and writes in a historical present tense that has fallen out of fashion and unsettles some readers. But its rewards are a narrative that races along with its stomach to the ground, revelling in the smells, sounds and textures of Tudor London, and seeking out the domestic reality behind the familiar iconography of Henry’s court. Sir Thomas More will never again be merely the Man for All Seasons any more than Henry himself will be just the dazzling hero of all those Holbein portraits.”
The BBC adds:
“Mantel told the gathered audience that it had taken her about 20 years to decide whether to write this particular book.
“‘I couldn’t begin until I felt secure enough to say to my publisher – just what a publisher always wants to hear – ‘this will take me several years you know’. But they took it on the chin…
“‘When I began the book I knew I had to do something very difficult, I had to interest the historians, I had to amuse the jaded palate of the critical establishment and most of all I had to capture the imagination of the general reader.’”